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South Austin academy helps adults with disabilities become more independent

The academy is a place for adults with disabilities to grow more independent through different programs, classes and experiences.

AUSTIN, Texas — Each year, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities is observed on Dec. 3. It is a day to promote the rights of people with disabilities and raise awareness. 

But there are some places here in Central Texas that promote that idea every day, including the Adventurers Academy of Lifelong Learning in South Austin.

The Adventurers Academy is a place for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities to gain new experiences that will help them become more independent. The adults do all kinds of activities at the academy, like line dancing, lawn games and multiple different art classes. They also learn money management, take fitness classes and learn about nutrition.

The value of hard work is an important one at the Adventurers Academy. Although their disabilities are acknowledged, the adventurers are encouraged to get out of their comfort zones.

“We like them to have fun, but we want them to be challenged,” said Diane Mackey, the founder and executive program director of the Adventurers Academy. “Not a challenge that's uncomfortable and makes them scared, but a challenge where they feel like, ‘Oh, I can go the next step.’”

The adventurers challenge themselves with all sorts of outdoor activities like hiking and horseback riding.

“People think we just want to ride around the circle when we come and go horseback riding because our guys have disabilities,” Mackey said. “I said, 'No, we don't want circles, we want trails.' We've been on them lots. These guys are comfortable on horses, they will follow the lead.”

The academy has also started a kayaking class that takes place twice a week. Mackey noticed that the adventurers loved going kayaking on the different trips they go on, so she wanted to give them more opportunities to get out on the water on a regular basis.

The adventurers have experiences here in Central Texas, but they also go on trips across the country.

“We walked in a hike into the Smoky Mountains, and we went to the St. Louis Zoo and the museum,” said Joseph Ramos, an adventurer at the academy.

While many of the adventurers prefer outdoor activities, others thrive by creating art.

“We do painting and coloring,” said Meagan Wellborn, an adventurer.

One of the adventurers named Joe does caricature drawings and creates gift bags and Christmas cards that are sold at the academy's fundraisers. Adventurer Joseph Ramos creates animals out of clay. He especially enjoys making dinosaurs and sea creatures.

The 32 adventurers range in age from 22 years old to around 70. In addition to their adventures, they do job training at Woodlawn Baptist Church.

“We mop, we pick up trash, we do windows, we do tables, chairs,” shared adventurer Lindsey Dickson.

“It helps them at their homes, it helps them in a potential job somewhere else. And they're also giving back at the same time,” Mackey said. “It's a volunteer job, as well as a job training job."

The adventurers love being able to serve their community and say they are happy to give back.

“It’s a lot of fun, a lot of fun to be here,” said Vicente Sanchez, an adventurer who does volunteer work training at the church.

“It helps us give back so we can be proud of ourselves,” Dickson said.

This group doesn't just know the value of hard work. Most importantly, they know what it feels like to be supported and loved.

“I hope that they will continue to grow to be more independent, to connect with their communities and just do all the things that everybody else does,” Mackey said.

The Adventurers Academy has multiple fundraisers each year. On Saturday, Dec. 4, it will be holding its Christmas Craft Fair from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. The event will be held at the academy, located at 1010 Meredith Drive in South Austin.

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